5 Differences between iPhone Native and Mobile-Web Apps

The iPhone is now the best-selling handset, and offers marketers an ability to deliver an enhanced experience. Do you know the difference between a “native” iPhone application, and a web application optimized for the iPhone? You should..


Many folks are starting to ask for an iPhone app, without perhaps knowing precisely what that entails strategically or technically. Here’s a quick overview of some of the differences between the two types:

  1. Native iPhone apps are built in Cocoa, Web apps can be built using the more widely known HTML/CSS/JS.
    As a result, you may have a hard time tracking down someone to build your native iPhone app. At Web Directions North 09, Brian Fling of FlingMedia stated that a native iPhone app could easily cost $30K – $40K in development costs (not including design). There are many, many more folks who know HTML/CSS/JS.
  2. Native iPhone apps are released through the Apple Store, and must be approved through Apple.
    This means you have the possibility of your app being denied, or having to wait a long time for approval. Web apps are available as soon as you deploy them to your server.
  3. You can sell your native iPhone apps in the App store. You may make money selling your app, but not every application is a runaway success. As well, Apple keeps a 30% commission off each sale. Is the point of your application to make money (and does it offer sufficient value to do so?), or are you simply looking to offer value to your potential clients?
  4. Native iPhone apps need to be downloaded from the App store, web apps are ‘findable’ on the web
    A user must anticipate the need for your application to make the effort to download it from the app store, whereas they may stumble upon your web app more easily. Will I download an application to help me shop at Walmart? No, but I appreciate the enhanced iPhone experience if I happen to go to their site. On the flip side, your application may benefit from being listed in the app store under the appropriate category, rather than hoping someone will stumble upon it.
  5. Native iPhone apps are available when the Internet isn’t
    Stuck someplace without Internet access (yes, such places exist, they’re called ‘planes’), I’ll commonly turn to my iPhone for a rousing game of “wurdle”. People use their iPhones equally for entertainment as information finding. With a native iPhone app you can offer your target audience some enjoyment when they are effectively captive.

I hope that this list doesn’t skew one way or the other, because I do think there are benefits to each (otherwise, would both exist?). Some applications are better suited to one medium or the other, and that is only something that can be determined on a case by case basis.

11 thoughts on “5 Differences between iPhone Native and Mobile-Web Apps

  • You forgot a few:

    * Performance. Cocoa can do more, faster than JavaScript can.
    * Hardware Access. You cannot access the GPS, cause vibration, etc. with JavaScript.
    * Subscription-based pricing model is only available to Web Apps

  • Got any proof of your first sentence? In sheer numbers or excitement?

    Follow me on twitter: scottplumlee

  • Thanks, URL fixed. So you raise a good point there- you mention windows mobile. That’s a platform, as opposed to a specific handset.

    Follow me on twitter: afhill262

  • The same guy (Communities etc etc) I linked to before had a post saying Apple would have to release more than once a year to really take of in the mobile space. I don’t really agree, because I think they don’t want tons of devices, they want ONE iPhone. Can you even buy the older version (from Apple, not in general) – are they still making them? I know the iPhone is a handset, but it’s sort of a platform in that there’s only one device running mobile OS X, or whatever you want to call it. When you’re the only one, you sort of represent the platform and can be used interchangeably, can’t you? I’ll have to think through this a bit, but thanks for catching my mistake. Enjoy Ohio while you’re back.

    Scott Plumlee’s last blog post..Mobile link dump

    Follow me on twitter: scottplumlee

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